Hi there, everyone! I’ve been meaning to get back to posting on my site again. My crazy back issues are loads better (and I hope they stay that way) so time to get back in the saddle! I posted this recently at Austen Variations, but I thought I’d go ahead and share it here just in case someone missed it before. It’s a sort of vignette/epilogue to Rain and Retribution. I did love writing a bad Jane, but I thought she needed a lesson. Happy reading!
As soon as the maid announced her, Elizabeth stepped forward to meet her aunt with a smile.
“Lizzy, I am so happy you could come,” said Mrs. Gardiner who carefully embraced her niece so as not to disturb the sleeping baby on her shoulder.
“I am pleased as well, Aunt.” The Gardiner’s well-appointed Cheapside home had been a welcome retreat when she was a child. The Gardiners affection for her was never conditional and made this place more of a childhood home than Longbourn had ever been.
Her aunt bit her lip while she folded down the blanket. They had not been in company together since the summer, so her aunt was, no doubt, eager to see eighteen-month old William’s face. “He has grown, and he has become quite handsome.”
Elizabeth could not help but smile. While she thought William the most beautiful child, it was always gratifying to have others praise him as well. “He has indeed grown. I believe if he continues as he has, he will easily be as tall as Will before long.”
Her aunt’s hand rested upon Will’s back. “I think you may have some time for that.”
“I know, but as of late, he seems to outgrow his gowns so quickly. I feel as though one day I will blink and he will suddenly appear before me a grown man.” The last was said on a sigh.
“This is not his normal nap time is it?”
Elizabeth shook her head. “No, he was awake very early this morning. I knew you hoped to see him today, but I had no expectation of him falling asleep in the carriage. I apologise for that.”
“I do not expect an apology, my dear. I know very well how children can be.” Mrs. Gardiner quickly peered around Elizabeth to William’s nursemaid, who waited patiently near the corner of the parlour. “Perhaps I should show Mary where he can rest down so we can visit?”
Once Elizabeth handed William off to the girl, she took a seat while they disappeared up the stairs. When Mrs. Gardiner returned, she sat opposite Elizabeth on the couch with her hands in her lap. “Will you remain in London long?”
“We plan to remain for a portion of the season. After I am presented at court, my husband wishes to take me to the theater and Vauxhall Gardens.”
Her aunt nodded and relaxed into the cushions. “You should enjoy those outings. Your friend Lady Ashworth is sponsoring your presentation, is she not?”
“Yes, I believe you have made her acquaintance.”
“I have. I like her very much. If I remember correctly, her husband is Mr. Darcy’s cousin?”
“Yes, she is,” said Elizabeth. “I was very pleased when she became family. Friends are lovely but this means she will always be nearby.”
They paused at a knock that came from the front door. A maid stepped inside the room moments later and curtseyed. “Pardon me, ma’am, but Mrs. Mason is here.”
Elizabeth startled, when after the introduction, her sister, Jane, entered. She straightened in her seat and pulled back her shoulders. No matter their current relationship, Elizabeth refused to be rude, so she rose along with her aunt and curtseyed.
“Thank you, Sarah,” said Mrs. Gardiner.
Jane glanced at Elizabeth but remained facing their aunt. “Forgive me if this is an inconvenient time. I came for the old baby gown you offered. The one you said would be ideal for a pattern.”
Mrs. Gardiner glanced back and forth between the sisters, no doubt debating on whether the two of them should be left alone together. After a look at Elizabeth, her aunt bustled from the room.
Jane’s eyes first lit on Elizabeth’s gown before moving to her face. “I would not have expected to find Mrs. Darcy in Gracechurch Street.” Her sister’s skirts did little to hide the swell at her waist, though Jane did not rest a palm to the babe as Elizabeth had during that time. Instead, her hands remained clasped tightly in front of her. The pose was reminiscent of Miss Bingley.
Elizabeth’s eyebrows rose as she returned to her seat. “I came to visit my aunt. Surely, you are aware of our uncle and aunt’s visit to Pemberley.”
A smirk appeared upon her sister’s face. “Yes, however, receiving one’s less than stellar relatives is more easily concealed in the country than here in town.”
“My husband and I are inordinately fond of my aunt and uncle. We have never, nor will we ever pretend the connection does not exist.”
Jane scoffed and rolled her eyes. “You cannot claim to be the same person you once were. You have cast off your ideals, why not cast off all of your relations?”
“I beg your pardon.” Elizabeth’s tone hardened and her entire body stiffened.
“Well,” said Jane in a high-pitched manner that resembled their mother. “You once said you would only marry for the deepest love, but you did not marry for love, did you? You wed someone you detest.” She gave a bitter laugh. “Though, I suppose now that you have provided his heir, he will seek other company.” She gave a slight titter. “Of course, you could always avoid him like my father avoids my mother.”
Lizzy clenched her fists at her sides, her fingernails digging crescent-shaped grooves into her palm. “You know nothing. Mother crowed for years how you could not be so beautiful for nothing and perhaps you began to believe it a bit too much. A person is only as beautiful as what is inside of them, and Jane, you have become a decidedly unattractive woman.”
Her sister’s smug expression disappeared. “You dare—”
“Why should I not? You have chosen to resent me, though I cannot fathom why.”
Jane pressed her hand to her chest with such force it the sound resembled a slap. “You left me behind! You could have sent for me, ensured I was in company again with Mr. Bingley! I was the one who was supposed to marry a rich man!” By the last word, her voice had become an ear-piercing screech.
“I would not have done Mr. Bingley such a disservice,” said Elizabeth as she stood. “His feelings for you were honest and true and you desired him because he was rich and amiable. He deserved so much more. I could not bear for him to be in such an unequal alliance so I told him you held no affection for him.”
Jane’s nostrils flared. “Perhaps I should have set my cap at Mr. Darcy. He married you. I could have captured him if I had wanted!”
Elizabeth lifted one eyebrow and took a few steps closer to her sister. “My husband did not think your heart easily touched—that is what he told Mr. Bingley. He thought you would accept his friend for mercenary purposes, and it seems he was correct. He never would have considered you either.
“I pity you, Jane. You have a husband, and you are obviously with child, but if you never allow anyone to touch your heart, you will be a lonely woman.” Jane made an unladylike noise through her nose. “That sounds more like Lydia than the Jane I remember. How long have you hidden that you are similarly selfish?” Her sister flinched.
Elizabeth took another step forward as she held her hand up with her finger pointed. “Lydia loved Wickham and that was the reason for her mistake. Your error has been closing your heart. Will you guard your heart from your child? I pity him or her if you do.”
“You have no right to criticise me for something you have done yourself!” Jane’s voice surely carried through the house.
“No, I married my friend who I love with everything in me. I have never sought to be so cold.”
The door opened as Mrs. Gardiner hurried back into the room, a baby gown grasped in her hand. “That is quite enough, Jane. You are in my home, and my guests will be treated with respect or you will not be welcome. Do you understand?” Jane’s chin hitched back as though she had been slapped. Mrs. Gardiner gestured behind Jane to where Mr. Mason stood in the doorway.
“Mrs. Mason, I would like a word.” Jane blanched but followed her husband into the empty dining room opposite the parlour.
“I am sorry for her behaviour,” said Mrs. Gardiner.
“You are not responsible for what she said. None of this is your fault.”
A sigh escaped her aunt’s lips as they both sat down. “I should not have left you alone with her.”
“I am capable of withstanding my sister’s spiteful words.” They both turned at the door opening to Mr. Darcy entering.
“I suppose you heard all of the fuss?” asked Elizabeth.
“Your sister’s voice did carry into the study. By his countenance, I would say Mr. Mason is displeased. He heard her mention of Mr. Bingley.”
Mrs. Gardiner exhaled heavily. “It is no one’s fault but her own. She should not have spoken.” A wail carried down from upstairs, prompting her aunt to smile. “I shall fetch William. I should be pleased to have a moment with him before you return home.”
As soon as Mrs. Gardiner exited the room, Darcy drew his wife into his arms. “How are you really?”
She smiled and placed her hands upon his chest. “I am well. I cannot claim what she said was a surprise, but I had hoped she could, at the very least, be civil.”
“I know, Love.” He pressed a kiss to her temple. A moment later, a loud squeal heralded William running towards them on his little legs. Darcy scooped him up with a laugh and wrapped his free arm back around his wife.
“The children have need of me upstairs,” said Mrs. Gardiner who followed just behind William. She kissed Elizabeth’s cheek. “I will visit with you more tomorrow night when we have dinner at Darcy House.”
Elizabeth smiled. “I look forward to it.” Her aunt tweaked William’s nose, prompting a babyish giggle, before she hurried back up the stairs.
Darcy wrapped his arms around his family once more. “Are you sure you are well?”
“I am very well.”
He leaned in and gently brushed his lips against hers. “Then let us go home.”
Mrs. Jane Mason quietly listened to her husband’s scolding as she fumed. How dare Lizzy tell Mr. Bingley she was indifferent! Lizzy was no better than her, marrying Mr. Darcy. She had always hated the man, and now to claim he was her friend and she loved him. Pah! Who knew Lizzy was such an accomplished liar?
“Mrs. Mason, are you listening?”
She started. “Yes, I apologise if I caused you any discomfort or embarrassment.”
He seemed appeased by her answer, and she exhaled as her shoulders relaxed. Mr. Mason left the dining room, and Jane’s attention was arrested by the sight of her sister in Mr. Darcy’s arms. Their young son was secure in Mr. Darcy’s embrace and leaned against his father’s shoulder. Meanwhile, Mr. Darcy softly kissed his wife’s temple while her hand rested upon their son’s back.
Her sister’s presence in his embrace was shocking, but the affection and happiness that radiated from both of their countenances left a bitter taste in Jane’s mouth.
A great yawning emptiness in her chest threatened to engulf her. She placed a hand to her belly and glanced towards her husband, who waited for her near the door. When the baby rolled, she looked down to the bump. Was it possible for her to have feelings for her husband?
“Mrs. Mason? Are you coming?”
She swallowed down the bile that burned at her throat, nodded, and stepped forward to follow her husband through the door.
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